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Moment of Truth: The Narrative Crutch

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

Sometimes ideas will strike me several at a time, and I'm not sure how they're going to fit together. And then other times, like now, no ideas will strike me, and I'll say to myself, "Sure wish I'd set one of those disparate ideas aside for a time like this." But, you know, it's like that story of the ant and the... other ant.

Some things are obvious. And that's okay. Like that song, "Rehab," by Amy Winehouse. Amy Winehouse was a songwriting, musical, and performance genius, but not so bright about moderation. And the song, "Rehab," where she sings about how people are telling her she should go to rehab, but she doesn't want to – it's no mystery who that's about. It's not "You're So Vain." Amy should not have gone to rehab, she should have moved to rehab. She should've just brought all her little kitchen appliances and lamps and stuffed animals and pipes, and moved in. But she didn't want to. And she decayed before our eyes, from the inside out.

There's a couplet in that song that goes like this, "The man said, 'Why'd'you think you're here?' I said, 'I got no idea.'" What do you make of that line, anything? Because to me it sounds like shorthand for a story I heard from a young Irish drunk in Israel back in the spring of '81. His name was Sean, if you can believe it. He lived on the kibbutz where I was, shall we say, stationed – it was Givat Oz, also known as The Reject Kibbutz. Another time, perhaps, I'll tell you about that, and the many times I escaped death during my ulpan.

Sean was roommates with Robert, the hectored intellectual from Montreal, and Ariev, the guitar-playing stoned ladies' man from Montreal. Sean was a storyteller and a fiction writer. And a drunk. And the three of them and whoever dropped by in the evening would sit around drinking, singing songs, discussing poetry and philosophy, and appreciating Sean's stories. Sean was Irish by blood and affinity, but he went to school in Georgia.

And Sean told a story about rehab in Georgia, which was meant to illustrate the hubris and futility of trying to get good-time Charlies like him to give up the sauce.

There was an old guy named Hawkins in the rehab with young Sean, and it was sharing time, and everyone was talking about the horrible things drinking had done to their lives and their loved ones and even to strangers. But old Hawkins would just spin these tales about how he and his good ol' boys went out on some hilarious escapade which involved guns and crashed cars and antlers and raccoons and drinking about five gallons of white lightnin' between 'em. And every story would end with, "Hoo-boy, wasn't that a time!" And old Hawkins would just slap his thigh and laugh.

Finally the young social-worker-type gentleman in charge of the group sharing became exasperated and said sternly, "Mr. Hawkins, do you know why you're here?" And now, telling the story, and channeling Happy-Go-Lucky Hawkins, Sean would let Hawkins's smile drop from his face and say, with guileless simplicity, "No, sir, I can't rightly say that I do."

And this was to illustrate how the institution of rehabilitation had ruined the good time of a perfectly happy, simple, fun-loving man. And when Amy Winehouse says, "The man said, 'Why'd'you think you're here?' I said, 'I got no idea,'" I think about that story that's supposed to justify remaining a drunk. Not that you need an excuse. Addictions are hard, and alcoholism is one of the hardest. The life of a drunk is a life for tougher people than I, my friends.

Before the end of two months, the whites of Sean's eyes were turning yellow, and he eventually had to be evacuated to get his liver treated. So I don't think I'm too far off in connecting the Hawkins story with the "Rehab" couplet. I think the Hawkins story is a crutch – a narrative crutch, for people who are too strong to give up whiskey to hobble around on.

We all have narrative crutches. How many times has someone been telling you a tale and you say to yourself, Damn, this twit is trying to justify his stupidity to me with this story. I'm as guilty of it as anyone. That's why I had to become a writer of fictitious stories. I knew my jabbering was bound to reveal more about me than I wanted it to, so I'd better start cloaking it deep under mounds of MacGuffins and running gags and plot twists and allusions to ancient knowledge.

And that is how Basmati Blues came to be written. I and two of my friends had a story to tell about our feelings about our mothers and fathers and lovers and bosses and strangers and nature and science and capitalism, and it would all have been pretty embarrassing if we'd just got up at The Moth and talked about it in plain English. Instead we took the more dignified route and presented our concerns in a comedic love story with kissing and dancing and singing and flowers.

Every week, This Is Hell's producer, Alexander Jerri, the greatest producer I can imagine, asks me for a tease for the coming weekend's Moment of Truth. And sometimes the tease I give him has little or no relationship to what finally goes into the microphone on Saturday morning. This week I told him I was going to review the movie I co-wrote and co-produced, Basmati Blues, and that is turning out to be a goddam lie, for the most part. But I will say this: Basmati Blues, like everything else I write, is my "Rehab," my Ol' Mister Hawkins story. And after having a reunion with all the people who came together again at the premiere last week, people who came from India, Chicago, Germany, Shanghai, New York, Italy, New Orleans – as always, I rely on the kindness of friends and family to tell me, or rather show me, that I haven't exposed too much for them to admit they know me.

And now, here is the Basmati Blues drinking game, which you can play when you watch Basmati Blues, through your video on demand service:

Please play according to your tolerance level. Do not push yourself.


Take a drink every time you see Jeff Dorchen in a scene.

Welterweights add:

A drink every time flowers are thrown or launched into the air.

Middleweights add:

A drink every time you see Danny Baron speak or make a quizzical face.

This is already a ton of drinking. If you get them all, you should have drunk 8 drinks. If your figure differs, either lower or higher, you have to take two extra drinks.

Heavyweights add:

A drink every time someone says (or sings) the word "goat." (Not every time you see one.)

For those who don't care if they live or die, add:

A drink every time you see a goat.

For those who want to die, or are very advanced alcoholics, add:

A drink every time someone says "rice."

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!


Moment of Truth


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